Making Sense of Sensemaking with Dr. Brenda Dervin

Sense-making in Collaborative Practice: Can Media Design Support Sensemaking in
Professional Practice Collaboration and Decision Making?

This conversational workshop is designed as a “dialogue” between a panel of 5 question-askers
and Dr. Brenda Dervin.

The framing for the conversation has been developed by the panelists. Through a series of
questions and answers, Dr. Dervin will attempt to build a bridge between her approach to
Sense?Making Methodology and the different approaches to sense-making/sensemaking that
ground the panelists’ questions. We envision a two-hour workshop-conversation inviting
researchers and practitioners working in problems information seeking, interprofessional
practice development, and other joint decision making challenges.

Why has sense?making/sensemaking recently emerged as a lens through which we describe
human experience with information, decision making, and complexity? Haven’t people always
tried to “make sense?” If so, what have we learned from our attempts to describe the
phenomenon of sensemaking in research and practice?

Multiple disciplines have recognized a need to describe the human experience of coping,
struggling with, working around, and making decisions in situations where complexity reigns.
The lessons learned from such experiences are not simple or easy to describe. But, the degree
to which they achieve satisfactory resolutions in real experiences is often described as making
sense of the situation. This phenomenon of sensemaking occurs in the lived experience of
people. Yet research into this experience and into procedures and technologies that support it
often seeks to abstract and generalize that process.

The intent of the workshop is to briefly explore how the framing of professional work (like that
of healthcare professionals) as sensemaking might enable better design of innovative media to
inform a multi-perspectival orientation to that work and practice. We invite participants in this
workshop to share studies, observations, and experience related to these ideas as well as to
engage in a formative dialogue with Dr. Dervin on the applications of Dervin Sense?Making to
problems of collaborative practice and design of what we might call sense?making media. We
envision a two?hour workshop?conversation inviting researchers and practitioners working in
problems information seeking, inter?professional practice development, and other joint decision
making challenges.

Panel Organizer: Peter Pennefather, Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy

Suggested Panel Questions

  1. How does sensemaking, both as research approach and as theory of human cognition and action, help researchers study, understand and explain problems of complex collective action?
  2. Can consideration of the information seeking and communicative tasks expressed as sensemaking better inform how media technology can be adapted to better serve collaborative professional service delivery?
  3. A significant stream of research finds sensemaking adopted to explain observations in collaborative work situations, where individuals seek information and resources to help resolve shared concerns and uncertainties with regards to disease treatment or health research issues. What do these attempts have in common?
  4. In healthcare research two major, divergent perspectives both aimed at improving practice outcomes compete for practitioner adoption: evidence?based medicine and patient?centered practice. The former seeks to establish the certainty with which a claim about the outcome of a practice can be trusted, yet the evaluation of whether that claim is applicable within the context of a particular intervention with a particular person can be best described as sensemaking process. The patient?centered school embraces dialogic and hermeneutic modes of evidence about human responses to service individual concerns, yet sensemaking studies are rarely employed in that domain of inquiry. In information technology, these perspectives appear as systems vs. user-centered design, and overall these are framed as positivist and interpretive. Can the concept of sensemaking serve as a bridge between these two horizons of knowledge?
  5. We find more sensemaking research in information seeking and online media practices, where the methods are perhaps best understood. But the problems of collaborative healthcare practice are only partially described by their relationship to information and media. How can current models of sensemaking support a robust model of making sense in collaborative problem/concern resolution or identification.
  6. While some new media services self?describe as sensemaking resources, their relationship to actual theories of sensemaking are tenuous at best. How can knowledge media designers and researchers into practices and technologies in that field use sensemaking as a theoretical framework for guiding their work?
  7. One of the most significant directions in sensemaking research has been the full adoption and integration of the naturalistic view of expert decision making into cognitive theories of skilled practice. Sensemaking has changed decision theory, but has sensemaking theory been changed in turn by integrating new formulations that enhance understandings in decision sciences? as a manifestation of pattern recognition that can only be viewed as “making sense of a situation.”
  8. Sensemaking has also recently influenced design thinking and theories of design oriented problem solving. Recent publications have associated sensemaking with abductive reasoning in design thinking, and have characterized the process of unpacking complex situations for the purposes of making effective design decisions as explicitly a sensemaking method. Designers speak of “visual sensemaking” as a new method for clarifying issues identified in so?called wicked problems. These design practices are contributing new media forms that may be repurposed to help facilitate the social engagement necessary to make sense of those problems.

Please join us April 22 at U of Toronto’s Bissell 205, for the lecture and for the workshop.